As a father of a nine-year-old son who will leave school in around a decade, Justin Moss has more than just a professional interest in helping to transform the North’s railways.
Based in York and the Strategic Development Manager at Siemens Mobility, for the last three years he has been representing dozens of businesses who depend on the industry’s success.
And the co-chair of Northern Rail Industry Leaders, which brings together businesses to help develop and support the rail industry in the North, knows all too well how far the region’s services have to go to match the South East.
“I grew up in Winchester and I commuted to London for about 20 years - it took 55 minutes to travel 70 miles”, he tells The Yorkshire Post. “It takes me longer to get to Manchester for less miles from York, circa an hour and 40 minutes, if you can get a seat.”
Mr Moss says having good rail links between the North’s major cities is not just an aim in itself but a way of creating jobs, developing the skills of the local workforce and contributing to the decarbonisation agenda.
And though flagship projects may take years or even decades to come to fruition, he sees them as a way to add dramatically to the value of the North’s economy.
“The main thing for me personally was I wanted to give my son every opportunity when he leaves school at 18 or 19,” he says. “These are long, 20 to 30 year programmes, and you need that connectivity because the world’s changing.”
The next month will be crucial in whether the major multi-billion pound infrastructure projects which promise such potential for the North ever arrive in Yorkshire in the way political and business leaders demand.
The Government will in December publish its Integrated Rail Plan setting out how the controversial HS2 project will link with Northern Powerhouse Rail, which aims to speed up travel between cities like Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle.
Despite Boris Johnson’s much-vaunted love of big infrastructure schemes, both projects face uncertainty. It emerged last week that government advisers will recommend the Eastern leg of HS2 between the West Midlands and Leeds be built in phases, delaying its completion by up to 20 years.
And though a preferred route for Northern Powerhouse Rail has now been agreed by political leaders, the scheme as a whole is yet to be approved by the Government and is far from certain to be delivered in full.
Ministers, conscious of the need to promote the PM’s levelling up agenda at a time when the pandemic has left the public finances in ruins, will ultimately take a political decision on whether to proceed with the schemes in full, partly or not at all.
But Mr Moss believes that to fully transform the North’s connections, both HS2 and NPR, along with the TransPennine Route Upgrade between Leeds, York and Manchester, are needed.
“If you talk to the northern leaders, it is imperative to make the whole case work, you can’t deliver half a project, it needs to be the whole thing.”
Tim Wood, the Northern Powerhouse director at Transport for the North, has played a pivotal role in developing the scheme so it is nearly ready for submission to government.
As well as a new high speed rail line between Leeds and Manchester, via the centre of Bradford, it includes major upgrades to the routes from Leeds and Sheffield to Hull and between Manchester and Sheffield. If all goes ahead as planned, the first construction work on the scheme could start as early as 2024/25.
But while TfN has set out its vision for the scheme, the Department for Transport as co-client on the project will also have a say and may put forward a cheaper, less ambitious route plan for consideration.
Mr Wood says the work between his organisation and Whitehall has been “really collaborative” and has allowed things to move quickly in the past three years, despite the DfT saying in June that the plans were moving “much too slowly”. “We’re always going to have tension, but I think the tension has always been helpful in driving some of the evidence base that we’ve been working on.”
He is also clear that the full delivery of HS2 to Yorkshire is integral to NPR as it will share track, stations and junctions on parts of the network.
“TfN has been crystal clear regarding HS2, the North needs that scheme delivered in order to truly build back better and bridge that North-South economic chasm alongside NPR. The decision shouldn’t be an either-or. And the delivery of both schemes, that needs to be accelerated as much as possible, arguably now more so than ever, due to the impacts of COVID-19, so more delay and dither from the government to NPR, and HS2 shows a distinct lack of commitment to the levelling up agenda.”
Amanda Beresford, Planning Partner at solicitors Schofield Sweeney and President at the Leeds Chamber of Commerce, insists that for the full benefits of the schemes to be captured “all of these elements must be built in their entirety and as quickly as possible”.
She said: “Productivity in the North of England lags behind the rest of the UK and just bringing the region up to the national average will raise an extra £1bn per week for the economy, covering the entire cost of HS2 and NPR in less than five years.
“It is well documented that poor transport connectivity holds back economic growth, reduces available job opportunities, hampers social mobility and ultimately stops firms from accessing the talent they need to expand.
“In his 2019 electoral campaign the Prime Minister called for ‘an end to delay and dither’, a view we support very strongly. Our Victorian-era railway network has served the country well but is now desperately in need of investment and improvement.
“This was true before the pandemic, and now more than ever could not be more important. We have the opportunity to make a difference not only for today but for generations to come.”